Archive for Twelfth Night

“Be That Thou Know’st Thou Art”

Posted in Twelfth Night with tags , , on March 30, 2009 by Saera

“So full of shapes is fancy/ That it alone is fanciful.”                                                   -Orsino

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I./ It is too hard a knot for me to untie.                  -Viola

“Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”            -Sir Toby

” She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i’th’ bud, feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought, and with a green ans yellow melancholy she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.  Was this not love, indeed?”                                   -Viola, as Cesario

“We men may say more, swear more, but indeed out shows are more than will; for still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love.”                                                            -Viola, as Cesario

“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool…”                -Viola

“Some are born great, some acheive greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”               

                                                                                                              -Malvolio, from Maria’s letter

“Nothing that is so, is so.”                                                         -Feste

Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art as great as that thou fear’st.” 



“Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art as great as that thou fear’st,” echoes in my mind. It perfectly depicts Olivia and Orsino’s self-centered attitudes in Twelfth Night. Both think that they know themselves very well, and show an unwillingness to both look at themselves from another’s eyes or look at others rather than themselves. At the play’s beginning, Orsino is continually commenting about his feelings, how much he loves Olivia, how miserable he is, etc. Is that love? Is it not rather self-infatuation?

But Olivia is also infatuated with herself. She refuses Orsino’s attentions, which is not indicative of selfishness, but her reasons for doing so do seem to be. She is very proud.  It takes Viola to show these two how selfish they really are. Viola’s listening, her willingness to see both sides of the matter, not simply her own (although she is working towards her own ends), enables her to make friends of both, and likewise completely changes their worlds. Instead of loving Olivia, Orsino ends up loving Viola. And instead of loving Cesario (Viola), as she thinks she is, Olivia ends up loving Sebastian.

The characters of Orsino and Olivia also are very inconstant. Orsino is more inconstant than Olivia because he deliberately chooses to be, yet Olivia is inconstant with her whole confuse love affair with Viola/Cesario/ Sebastian, although it is not knowingly done. Still though, one could argue that, had she paid more attention to Cesario instead of herself, she would have noticed the differences in Sebastian’s voice, attitude/emotions, display of those emotions, etc.

Although she shows the appearance of undergoing the most change, Viola is the most constant character of the play, besides Antonio. She changes her physical appearance, but she remains true to Orsino, in that she continues to do his bidding even at her own cost, and she also tries to be fair and true to Olivia.


Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Posted in Twelfth Night with tags , , , on March 26, 2009 by Saera

12night2       Twelfth Night is not one of my favorite plays. I guess it just doesn’t really catch my interest, and I think that it has very dark undercurrents for a comedy. I cannot reconcile what Maria and her companions, especially Feste end up doing to Malvolio.

While in the Shakespeare for Teachers course, I read through Rex Gibson’s  Teaching Shakespeare,  by Cambridge University Press. It has many helpful tips to understanding and teaching Shakespeare’s works, but one that I found especially helpful was his separation of what he calls the “Four Common Themes” of Shakespeare: conflict, appearance and reality, order and disorder, and change.  These can be applied to almost any Shakespeare play, but I found them to be quite relevant to this one.

In Twelfth Night, the main conflict is between Malvolio and the servants/Sir Toby/Sir Andrew/ and company. This conflict is between seriousness and fun, and some see it as between good and evil. For my part, I have a hard time believing Sir Toby to be a likeable character (he seems to be just as full of himself as Malvolio is), so I cannot see him representing “good” (is fun always “good?”), and although Malvolio certainly has his faults, I cannot see him as a villain. There is also conflict between Orsino’s will and Olivia’s will.

Appearance versus reality is one of the central concerns of the play. Most of the play’s conflict does seem to come from this theme, actually. There is the appearance of love (Orsino’s constant complaints, outward shows of love, etc.) vs. its reality (Orsino ends up loving Viola instead of Olivia, and Viola proves that loveinvolves more than its appearance?), Viola’s outward appearance as a man vs. her true identity, Malvolio’s act as his appearance contrasts sharply with reality of Olivia’s sorrow, Sir Andrew’s appearance of being a knight, but in reality being only a wealthy fop who bought the title, and Malvolio’s appearance of insanity vs. his true saneness.

Order and disorder is also present. The order of the court is upset by the twins’ arrival – Viola’s disguise matching Sebastian causes much confusion and disorder, Malvolio’s attempt to order the lives of Sir Toby and his companions and their overthrow of him and resulting disorder.

Change is also a prominent theme of the play. Viola’s change is perhaps most apparent, her initial change into the appearance of a young man, then her reversal back to her old self. But Orsino’s change is also prominent. He appears to love Olivia very passionately at the play’s opening, but his heart changes, and he becomes enamored with Viola. Olivia also changes, and loves Sebastian rather than Cesario. Malvolio also changes from his drab Puritan garb into the gay costume that he believes Olivia will like.  However, one character who contrasts all these changing ones, a character remaining constant, is Antonio. He never abandons Sebastian, even when Viola (whom he mistakes for Sebastian) spurns him and denies ever knowing him.